4 Ways To Research Negative Keywords Before Launching New Search Campaigns

4 Ways To Research Negative Keywords Before Launching New Search Campaigns

Whenever you find a way to save time managing your paid media accounts…that’s a win. 

Now what if the new way to save time also will help you improve performance? That’s a BONUS. 

This is exactly why whenever we’re creating new campaigns for clients, we like to research negative keywords to implement before the campaigns are ever launched. We do this for two reasons: 

  1. Google Ads doesn’t show you all the Search Terms which triggered your ads anymore. So if you’re using only the Search Terms report to find new negative keywords, we guarantee you’re missing a LOT more. 
  2. Implementing negative keywords ahead of time gives our new campaigns the best start possible. If you can find terms that could possibly serve your ads, but also have nothing to do with your business, why wait until they show up in your Search Terms report. Save your spend for relevant users. 

While I can’t cover every way I like to research negative keywords ahead of time in this post, I at least want to show you my favorite strategies. These are the easiest for most PPC advertisers to use right away. Let’s get started. 

1 | Google Ads Keyword Planner

Most likely you’re already using Google’s Keyword Planner tool to research new keyword ideas, either for new or existing campaigns within your accounts. Since you’re already in the tool for new keywords, simply take the irrelevant results and add them as negatives right away. Here’s one example based on a keyword search related to noise cancelling headphones. 


I’ll admit I’m not too familiar with the audio technology industry, but in my opinion, headphones and earbuds are different types of products. Personally I hate earbuds. So when I’m searching for headphones, I want the ones that cover my entire ear. When looking at similar keyword recommendations in Keyword Planner, we see Google recommends both types of products. 

With the degradation of how match types work over the past few years, I would not be surprised if Google showed my headphone ads to anyone looking for earbuds. If you need to be this specific and segmented with your products and services, look at what Google recommends as similar keywords. Keyword Planner might help you find terms that are similar, but not relevant to your campaign goals. 

Another example we can see in the bottom of the image is just the phrase “noise cancelling.” This doesn’t mention anything about headphones, so that’s a potential option for an exact match negative. Other examples within the same results include other brand names. If you don’t want to show up for competitor queries, then collect the list of ones you see and exclude them from your campaigns. 

As you’re researching new keywords, always pay attention to the bad recommendations Google gives you. They may be bad options to target, but they could also be great options to add as exclusions. 

2 | Google Auto-Complete

This time we’ll step away from Google Ads and look just at Google.com. In this example, I’m going to type in a search term, hit SPACE, and then see what else Google suggests. 

In the image above, I typed in the phrase “cnc milling.” Before I could finish the search term, Google is suggesting search results for machines, projects, software, et al. Now I could be a company that makes and sells the machines. If that’s the case, I would probably want to exclude any terms related to services or software because that’s not what my company sells. 

But this is just one example. When using Google’s auto-complete, I like to do the ‘alphabet’ test. I’ll type in my root keyword (e.g. cnc milling), and then I’ll type in the letter “a” to see what other possible phrases Google recommends. When I did that in this example, one of the recommended searches was “cnc milling advantages and disadvantages.” This probably isn’t relevant if I’m trying to sell machines. 

Next I’ll change the “a” into a “b” and see those results. In this case possible negative ideas that popped up were for “cnc milling book” or “cnc milling Brisbane.” After “b,” I’ll go to “c” and so on, until I’m through the alphabet. Usually I can collect a nice list of words or phrases that have nothing to do with my clients’ goals to add to my negative keyword lists. 

3 | Free Keyword Research Tools

This strategy is similar to using Keyword Planner, but now we’ll use independent sources. There are so many websites out there offering free keyword research tools. And because these tools typically give us different results and recommendations than the Keyword Planner tool, they’re a useful resource that reveals many more options for negative keyword ideas. So which one is my favorite? I’d probably have to go with keywordsheeter.com


Just type in a list of keyword ideas, and then it generates a nice, long list of similar keywords to either add or exclude from your accounts. The tool also gives you the option to export via Excel for a simple copy/paste format to get the negative keyword ideas into your account. 

In the image above, I shut off the list early and still had almost 600 options. Here were some ideas for possible negatives I saw in this list: 

  • Random cities around the world (if I’m focused on just one location)
  • People looking for YouTube channels
  • Search terms with “vs” in them if people are comparing a lot
  • TONS of job and career queries
  • Definition and wiki queries
  • So much more junk

And this is just one example of a free tool we like to use. Here are a few other free keyword research tools out there: 

4 | Keyword Research Tools That Require a Subscription

Accessing everything for free would be nice, but unfortunately, some of the best tools to use for proactive negative keyword research require a subscription. We love to use some of these paid tools to get great competitor insights we can’t get with all the free tools. The paid tool we use the most is SpyFu. You can take a URL, like your own or a competitor’s URL, and see what search terms triggered their ads in the past. 

Sticking with the specific “cnc milling” examples I used previously, I took the URL of the first ad I saw and plugged it into SpyFu. Again, I have no idea of this particular company’s goals, but I’m going to pretend they care about only selling machines. When I looked at the initial results, I saw terms I may want to exclude if my goal was just to sell machines. 

Results included “homemade” and “used;” odds are these aren’t the right terms to hit the desired audience. I’m also seeing some ideas for “how-to” questions. It’s quite possible they want to show up for higher-level, discovery terms. But if the goal is leads or sales, then they’ll want to find and exclude any question terms for the users  looking to educate themselves and not buy. Other terms we found were for “diy” as well as various parts queries that clearly weren’t about purchasing an entire machine. 

Just dropping in a single URL reveals a variety of negative keyword ideas. Now just imagine what you’d find if you typed in all of your competitors. Maybe all of the other URLs showing up in your Auction Insights report. Even if URLs in your Auction Insights aren’t true competitors, they may be a goldmine for negative keyword ideas if they’re showing up for some of the same search terms you are. 

Paid tools can provide a lot more keyword options you’d get in Keyword Planner or some of the paid tools. Besides SpyFu, here are some other options that may require a paid plan to see all of the results: 

The Takeaway: Proactively Researching Negative Keywords Saves Time and Money

There are so many ways you can research irrelevant queries and get them into your exclusion lists before running any campaigns. Not only will deploying this strategy help you use ad spend on more relevant terms, it will also save you time. The more negative keywords you can add ahead of time, the less time it’ll take you to review and implement negative keywords as part of your ongoing optimization. 

We could cover only a few easy ways we like to find irrelevant terms in this post. What are some of the ways you like to be proactive with negative keywords?

Ready to get started?

Let us provide a free campaign audit to show you missed opportunities.